American flights were slow to resume departures, and the ground stop was lifted as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tried to fix an overnight system outage that forced the grounding of all American departing flights.
More than 7,300 flights were delayed and 1,100 canceled, according to the website FlightAware, in the first national flight shutdown in about two decades, industry officials said.
The total continued to rise, and some airlines said the outage could cause delays into at least Thursday, if not longer.
The cause of the problem with the pilot’s warning system was unclear, but US officials said they had so far found no evidence of a cyber attack. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN the problem with overnight “inconsistencies” with safety messages sent to pilots caused the outage.
He said the ground stop was the “right call” to make sure messages were moving properly and there was no direct evidence of a cyber attack.
The decline has typically been slow following the holiday travel season, but demand remains strong as travel continues to recover to near pre-pandemic levels.
The FAA said in a tweet that normal flight operations were resuming.
The outage could affect operations through Friday, said Capt. Chris Torres, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association.
“This thing was canceled at 9 a.m. ET. That doesn’t mean the problem stops at 9 a.m. That’s going to cause ripple effects,” said Torres, whose members fly for American Airlines.
One of the problems airlines face is trying to get planes in and out of overcrowded gates, causing further delays. Crew timeout rules can also play a role.
At the airport in Greenville, South Carolina, Justin Kennedy left a business trip to nearby Charlotte. He said there was confusion because airline employees didn’t know what the FAA was saying and many passengers were initially unaware of the delays.
“I was sitting in the Chick-fil-A cafeteria with a good view of the TSA exit,” said the 30-year-old information technology worker. “I saw at least four people sprinting to the gates thinking they were going to miss their flight only to return to the food court out of breath.
The FAA had earlier ordered airlines to suspend all domestic departures after a pilot warning system crashed and the agency had to perform a hard reset around 2 a.m., officials said. Flights that were already in the air could continue to their destinations.
Shares of US carriers rebounded after the market opened with resumption of flights. The S&P 500 airline index rose 1% in afternoon trading.
A trade group representing the US travel industry, including airlines, called the failure of the FAA’s system “catastrophic.”
“America’s transportation network is in desperate need of major upgrades,” Geoff Freeman, president of the US Travel Association, said in a statement. “We urge federal policymakers to modernize our vital air transportation infrastructure.”
- ‘TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE’
Flyers in the US have few alternatives. Commuting distances are too long and the country’s passenger rail network is thin compared to networks in other countries.
The outage appeared to have limited impact on transatlantic routes, with European carriers including Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia and British Airways saying flights to and from the United States were continuing. Virgin Atlantic has warned that some flights may be delayed.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said the panel would investigate. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called the failure “completely unacceptable” and the matter should lead to reforms as part of the FAA’s reauthorization, which is due by September.
An operational meltdown in the south-west at the end of last year left thousands stranded. A severe winter storm just before Christmas, coupled with the Texas carrier’s outdated technology, led to more than 16,000 flight cancellations.
DOT, the FAA’s parent agency, criticized Southwest’s failure and pressured the airline to compensate passengers. On Wednesday, Buttigieg rejected a proposal that the FAA reimburse passengers for delays caused by the FAA problem.
The FAA suffered another major computer problem on Jan. 2 that led to significant flight delays in Florida.
A total of 21,464 U.S. flights with a capacity of nearly 2.9 million passengers were scheduled to depart on Wednesday, data from Cirium showed.
Rodney Allen was on his way with friends on vacation to Puerto Rico from Cincinnati, but got stuck in Newark.
“As soon as we landed, the passengers on the plane said that the flights were grounded,” said the 25-year-old businessman. He still had the option of checking into a flight to Puerto Rico, but his friends were offered travel credits.
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